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Adam Bede

be recovered by any prompt deeds of atonement. He stood like an immovable
obstacle against which no pressure could avail; an embodiment of what Arthur
most shrank from believing in--the irrevocableness of his own wrongdoing. The
words of scorn, the refusal to shake hands, the mastery asserted over him in
their last conversation in the Hermitage--above all, the sense of having been
knocked down, to which a man does not very well reconcile himself, even under
the most heroic circumstances--pressed on him with a galling pain which was
stronger than compunction. Arthur would so gladly have persuaded himself that
he had done no harm! And if no one had told him the contrary, he could have
persuaded himself so much better. Nemesis can seldom forge a sword for herself
out of our consciences--out of the suffering we feel in the suffering we may have
caused: there is rarely metal enough there to make an effective weapon. Our
moral sense learns the manners of good society and smiles when others smile,
but when some rude person gives rough names to our actions, she is apt to take
part against us. And so it was with Arthur: Adam's judgment of him, Adam's
grating words, disturbed his self-soothing arguments.
Not that Arthur had been at ease before Adam's discovery. Struggles and
resolves had transformed themselves into compunction and anxiety. He was
distressed for Hetty's sake, and distressed for his own, that he must leave her
behind. He had always, both in making and breaking resolutions, looked beyond
his passion and seen that it must speedily end in separation; but his nature was
too ardent and tender for him not to suffer at this parting; and on Hetty's account
he was filled with uneasiness. He had found out the dream in which she was
living--that she was to be a lady in silks and satins--and when he had first talked
to her about his going away, she had asked him tremblingly to let her go with him
and be married. It was his painful knowledge of this which had given the most
exasperating sting to Adam's reproaches. He had said no word with the purpose
of deceiving her--her vision was all spun by her own childish fancy--but he was
obliged to confess to himself that it was spun half out of his own actions. And to
increase the mischief, on this last evening he had not dared to hint the truth to
Hetty; he had been obliged to soothe her with tender, hopeful words, lest he
should throw her into violent distress. He felt the situation acutely, felt the sorrow
of the dear thing in the present, and thought with a darker anxiety of the tenacity
which her feelings might have in the future. That was the one sharp point which
pressed against him; every other he could evade by hopeful self-persuasion. The
whole thing had been secret; the Poysers had not the shadow of a suspicion. No
one, except Adam, knew anything of what had passed--no one else was likely to
know; for Arthur had impressed on Hetty that it would be fatal to betray, by word
or look, that there had been the least intimacy between them; and Adam, who
knew half their secret, would rather help them to keep it than betray it. It was an
unfortunate business altogether, but there was no use in making it worse than it
was by imaginary exaggerations and forebodings of evil that might never come.
The temporary sadness for Hetty was the worst consequence; he resolutely
turned away his eyes from any bad consequence that was not demonstrably
inevitable. But--but Hetty might have had the trouble in some other way if not in
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